Monday, November 30, 2009

Lots of Time = Lots of Projects

Whew. The loooong weekend left us with lots of time to occupy. We cooked and ate and created and read and now it's time to jump back into the swing of things. The jewelry biz is picking up for the holiday season and those bookmarks have proven to be quite popular (picture me crawling out of my cave-like basement workshop, protecting my eyes from the brightness of daylight, after making many, many bookmarks).

The last of the autumn-themed projects—delicious and simple sugar cookies.

..And the first of the Christmas crafts, beeswax ornaments (these smell so good!)

A couple of lanterns made from old jam jars. Just water down some glue and paint it over torn pieces of tissue paper to stick it right onto the glass. We tied string around the tops and took a few lantern walks around the neighborhood. Now that it gets dark around 4pm, we can do that before dinner. (We even played night hide-and-seek in the back yard, using the lanterns to light our way. Fun!)

Pomanders, which I forgot all about, but should have been started about a month ago. We figured we'd give it a shot and see what comes of them in a few short weeks.

I rejoice in the fact that Black Friday is done and over with, and we don't have to hear that term—or all the hype for another 11 months. Now, if we could only avoid all the other holiday advertising madness....

Happy Holiday Season!

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Giving Thanks

We tried to show gratitude for the birds yesterday, by giving them a special treat to peck at. Should have known this little guy was going to sabotage the whole thing. And so, we are thankful for the squirrels, too, and for the amazing show of acrobatics this one performed to get to the pine cone.

A few highlights from the girls' "thankful" list this year:
San Diego

(who isn't thankful for toilets?)
Happy Thanksgiving!

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

...And Even More Treasures

There's something else the girls always come back with from their basement-shopping extravaganzas I mentioned in my previous post. Tucked away in my parents' lower level are boxes of crafts and knick-knacks that my sister and I made over the years. She and I took a few years' worth of ceramics classes, which meant shelves full of statues, piggy banks, and figurines for every holiday and special occasion. My girls go crazy for them all, and one by one these items are making their way home with us—back to me, to occupy shelf space my own home now.(They're heeeeere! Say that like the little girl in Poltergeist, because I feel a little haunted by some of these figurines).
These salt and pepper shakers and pilgrim statues were among the latest treasures taken home with us— just in time to add them to our Thanksgiving table.

(Today, I'm thankful that my parents allowed us to take that ceramics class for so many years and fill their home with pilgrims, Santas, a menagerie of animal statues, and one too many ashtrays. I don't foresee any ceramics classes in the girls' near future.)

(Then again, they really seem to like those statues...)

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Book Art

The girls have a new tradition when we visit my parents. My mom takes them to the basement and they go "shopping". To them, it's like going on a treasure hunt. They come back upstairs with bags full of old Christmas decorations, various plastic serving dishes, and out-dated costume jewelry. I brace myself to see what they found and, ultimately, want to take home (so much for trying to get rid of the clutter).

But the one thing they always come up with are books. Hardcover books that they have been granted permission to do whatever they please with. This is an absolute thrill to them, and I can see why. It's the joy of being given carte blanche to something that is usually to be treated with care and respect (careful, that's a library book!). And what they come up with is great...

Sometimes they write complete stories.

(some of them are suspense thrillers)

Sometimes they use the books like you would use a sketchbook, and doodle on each page.

The girls will sit for long periods of time with these books and write, draw and scribble in them just because they can. I save all of them, and the great thing is that all this work is bound neatly together already—no loose papers to gather up and go through.

Buying hardcover books would be a good purchase for the kids at a yard sale (instead of that skanky Snoopy stuffed animal they inevitably want). Tell them it's theirs to do whatever they please with, take it home, and watch their newly-granted licence inspire them.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Red Cabbage Wonders

Irresistible. Each and every time I cut into a red cabbage, I am amazed at the graphic beauty of it. I cannot get over that bright plum (cabbage?) purple, swirled into mazes that fold over each other in beautiful randomness.

And every time I cut into one I think to myself, "Someday, I'm going to give this cabbage the props it deserves." I dream of painting, drawing, knitting or interpreting in silver this boldly contrasting composition. I'm working up to that, but this weekend we did do a little experimenting with the color.

I boiled the cabbage for about a half hour, allowing all the pigment to leach out and boil down to a slightly thicker liquid. The result was this inky, deep purple dye.

We soaked some cotton string and fabric scraps in the dye and they dried this gorgeous amethyst color. The girls have big plans for me to knit stuffed animal hats with this string, and make clothes for their soft friends with the fabric. We shall see...

Of course, we ate the remainder of that cabbage. There is an excellent recipe for Red Cabbage with Lemon and Black Pepper, in A Homemade Life, by Molly Wizenberg (Of Orangette fame). If you haven't picked this book up yet, I highly recommend it. Our favorites from that book also include Tomato Soup with Two Fennels, and Custard-Filled Corn Bread. yum-y!

Friday, November 20, 2009

The Missing Ingredient

Why must molting chickens take an egg-laying vacation? For over a year now, we have thoroughly enjoyed getting our eggs from our own backyard. I can't tell you the pleasure we take in starting a recipe with a walk to the chicken coop to collect a few eggs—the freshness, taste, and color can't be beat. But we have seen a steady decrease in eggs over the past few weeks and between the four hens we are down to one a day, at best. This is not nearly enough for a family that makes their own bread. We have adjusted by skipping the baked treats, the breakfast sandwiches, and the quiches. Just the thought of purchasing eggs pained me. I relish in the running joke the girls and I have at the grocery store, "Oh we forgot the eggs!" (I pretend to turn the shopping cart around to head for the dairy aisle). The girls giggle and shout "No Meems, we don't buy eggs anymore!"

Well as you may have suspected, I finally broke down and bought some. Not happy about this. And happy about this, at the same time.

A half-dozen eggs, paired with the 2 we had in our fridge soon yielded those mouth-watering cookies for an after-school snack, a quiche for dinner, and some Pilgrim Pumpkin Cake for dessert.

A big thank you to all the chickens out there who are not molting!

Our daughter brought this recipe home from school a few years back and it has become one of our favorites.
Pilgrim Pumpkin Cake with Brown Butter Frosting
2 eggs
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup oil
1 cup pumpkin puree
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg

Frosting ingredients:
1/3 cup butter
1 3/4 cups powdered sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 to 1 1/2 tablespoons hot water

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Lightly grease and flour a 9" square pan. Beat together eggs, sugars, oil, and pumpkin. In a separate bowl, mix dry ingredients together. Add this to the egg mixture and combine well. Pour batter into pan and bake for 35 minutes or until lightly browned. Cool and spread frosting.
Brown Butter Frosting:
Melt butter over low heat until brown. In a large bowl, beat together powdered sugar and vanilla, add the butter and stir well. Gradually add hot water, beating until frosting is smooth enough to spread.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Giveaway and Interview Feature

Exciting news...
AG Ambroult is being featured on GardenMama for the next few days!

For those of you who are not familiar with Nicole, or GardenMama, she's worth getting to know. Her blog is poetic, ethereal, and inspirational. Each post is beautifully written and stunningly photographed.

GardenMama interviewed me last week via email, giving me thought-provoking questions for which I wrote and deleted the answers to several times (being introspective doesn't come easy to me). In addition to the interview, she is also sponsoring a very exciting AG Ambroult giveaway , where I will be making a custom Remembery Capsule for the lucky winner.

This giveaway will run until Saturday at 8pm. To enter, just stop by the GardenMama blog and leave a comment. The winner will be announced That same night at 9pm.

Monday, November 16, 2009

...And Done

Sharing a few pix of the completed toy box with you this morning.

It's even better in person. The color is velvety, the surface absolutely smooth. I wish you could all run your hands over it.

It really puts our own toy box to shame. Luckily, I've got an in with this woodworker I know...
You can read more about the making of this toy box here.

Friday, November 13, 2009

A Vintage Find, Literally

I have mentioned my house before—old, small, and quirky, but home just as well. Our upstairs has a tiny unfinished room within the pitch of the roof. We use that space for storing all the junk we can't find a better place for (cast off toys, old paint cans, crates of books...).

Ever since we moved to this house six years ago, there has been a box shoved in the crook of that room, where the roof meets the floor. It was partially covered by loose insulation and other debris so I put off pulling it out and tossing it for another day (year), and finally got to it yesterday.

I pulled my turtleneck over my mouth and nose (OSHA standard procedure, right?), went in and came out with this old hat box:

On the lid is the name of a old millinery shop with all of it's locations, which included one in my home town.

I blew the dust off the top and gently removed the lid...

In it was this incredible hat! Just like the ones those glamorous women in old-time movies wore, complete with a veil. The tag read: C.Crawford Hollidge.

With a little research I found this blog where I learned that C. Crawford Hollidge was a high end women's specialty store in downtown Boston. It was a shopping landmark for almost 60 years until it completely burned down in 1967.

I called my mother to ask if she remembered the store and she was thrilled to be reminded of it. She told stories of shopping there with her mother as a child. My mom couldn't wait to call my aunts and ask them if they remembered C. Crawford Hollidge, too.

And to think! ...that hat has been sitting in my house for decades. Finding that hat made my day. We all had fun trying it on, recalling the glamour of a time long ago.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

More of Autumn's Second Phase

A few more signs of the second phase of autumn...

Planting garlic. Seems like we just pulled it out of the ground and we're already running low. We planted lots this year, as most of our meals start with garlic sauteing on the stove. Oh, that scent!

And one funky chicken. Rocky has started to molt, and the others will soon follow suit. She's quite a sight with almost no feathers on her neck right now. That poor hen looks like she's seen better days.

What signs of this second half of autumn are you seeing?

Monday, November 9, 2009

The Ten-Year Gift

You may remember that we celebrated our tenth anniversary a few weeks ago. I made a special gift for "A" that I have been meaning to share with you.

Ten years was a big one, and it seemed so significant, personal, and gratifying. It also seemed to go by so fast. I wanted to timelessly capture our children while they are still small. I wanted to package them up and deliver them to him in a heart warming way. We have so many photos of them, and I have already given him a Remembery Capsule on another occasion, so I made silver silhouettes of the girls and placed them in a copper container.

The shapes of our girls and cat, and a tiny "ILU" heart (which is the way our 5-year-old daughter abbreviates "I love you") occupy the small round box.

A straight-from-my-soul message was written on the inside of the lid.

I'm thinking of adding my silhouette and his, as well, to preserve our family as we were in 2009. Things are changing so fast—the girls are growing like weeds and the grown-ups in our house are finding stray gray hairs every so often (ahem). Hopefully someday we'll hold up those silhouettes to compare what we use to look like and laugh. Maybe ten years from now.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

One Season, Two Parts

There seems to be two parts to autumn. First there is back-to-school, apple picking, the garden harvest, pumpkins, and Halloween.

After that it's all leaf raking, gourds, baking and, of course, Thanksgiving. I can't decide which I like better. Both parts evoke such strong feelings and memories.

What better way to celebrate this, our second phase of autumn, than with a little turkey and some pumpkin pie?

Crochet patterns found here

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Brainstorming and Bookmarks

I've been brainstorming ideas for my business lately—how I can generate more sales, how I can improve my brand, and how I can market my pieces better. I decided I was going to offer some more functional pieces in addition to my jewelry—to expand my lines in the hope of expanding, well, sales! But what to do? There are always money clips and barrettes/hairpins, which I would like to make but I'm not sure, since there seem to be so many on the market. Then I remembered I had seen metal bookmarks once. I remember loving them and thinking I would absolutely use one if I had one. So I set off to make some bookmarks of my very own design. This is what I came up with:

Made from fat silver wire, it was hammered flat so it fits snugly into a book without hurting the binding. In typical AG Ambroult fashion, they were hammered and otherwise abused, then oxidized for a rustic feel.

The hook fits over the binding, keeping your place secure. Slip it in your book and pick right up where you left off.

There are many readers in my life, so it's good to know I have the gift of a bookmark ready and waiting for when an occasion arises.

The heart bookmark is currently listed in my shop.

Monday, November 2, 2009

A Lesson and a Prize

I did my last Design Hive of the year yesterday. It was a pretty busy show, with much better attendance than previous shows this fall. Folks must be getting into the holiday purchasing mindset. I mean after all, some of the big stores have had holiday gear out since Labor Day (I promise not to rant about this right now...).

If I hadn't shot myself in the foot, I'd be doing the December Design Hive as well, and most likely making a killing there. But no. I decided not to sign up for it because I was applying to a couple bigger handmade shows and hoped to sell even more pieces. Only thing is, I got denied from both of them, leaving me show-less for the busiest time of the year. Please learn this lesson from me, and not on your own. I am a professional at learning the hard way.

All that behind me, there were some amazing artisans at the show. As usual, I left with a little prize for myself.

This excellent set of blank cards from Weehah! were much too tempting for me. As you may already know, I gravitate towards all things chicken nowadays.

In addition to those cards, I left with a couple of custom orders in my folder. I am super excited about these special necklaces and will be sharing them with you once they're done.

Happy November!